A pattern of light and shadow. Color awash in creamy tones and blotted with vibrant reds and Kelly green. Symmetry and asymmetry balanced in a series of principles and elements of design that are seemingly happenstance at first, until the viewer realizes just how deliberately placed they are.
It is these things that first draw the eye to Final Light: V. Douglas Snow in Retrospect, the Salt Lake Art Center and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts joint exhibition, the former running till October 22, 2011 and the latter January 8, 2012. The two presentations place the work of V. Douglas Snow as a visual centerpiece, an artist whose life was tragically lost October 20, 2009 in a car accident and who is now remembered through his work.
V. Douglas Snow was born in 1927 in Salt Lake City, essentially knowing his calling as an artist from the start and doing art as a teenager. He attended the American Art School and Columbia University, then the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
From there he began his career as a teacher at the University of Utah, where he would continue for the next 35 years until 1971, inspiring the next generation after him with his interpretive eye and devoted use of color to showcase the landscape of Utah.
Final Light is a work of combined effort by Frank McEntire, Susan Snow and many others to share this brilliant artist, teacher and muralist’s work, with a team of supportive individuals striving to fulfill the last wish Snow made just days before his death at the age of 82; that of publishing a book about his art. From there the concept has expanded to include a dual exhibition hosted at two locations by the SLAC and UMFA as well as an art student scholarship. Both are a precursor to the publication which is due to follow in 2012, titled, “Final Light: The Life and Art of V. Douglas Snow,” making this the first chance for the public to see in person the talent of a master.
Pieces and themes which reveal a affinity for light and shadow, the deliberate use of color as a focal point or to indicate shapes or movement and an exact understanding of visual balance with a consistency in technique and style that transcends the decades.
Many pieces from the 1950s and 60s, for example, are focused on the abstract, yet they bear names of nature and it can clearly be seen that the southern Utah landscape has influenced Snow. When looking at the pieces there is always an inherent element that cements the piece to whatever he is inspired by such as splash of blue indicating the open sky, or dusky browns and rich reds to indicate canyons, open stretches of highway, or his signature Kelly green fir trees.
Frank McEntire, guest curator for the exhibits, former executive director of the Utah Arts Council and friend to the artist stated that, “Even in the work of his early experimental years there was typically some fragment of the familiar, a gesture toward representational land or sky. That was his brilliance—his ability to imbue familiar landscapes with the power of abstract expressionism that indelibly imprinted his aesthetic vision.”
Direct examples of this exist in Snow’s title, “Utah Landscape,” created 1955, as well as “Untitled,” from the 1950’s. It’s interesting to note that in these pieces there’s a heavy use of black, then the use of colors that are near pastel, to indicate a high value contrast. And with an eye for balance and a recognition of the experimentation of the art of the period, Snow created a face-like visual balance mixed with small sections of loosely mixed color (reds or greens, usually). These stand out to the viewer but are not overpowering when looking at the overall composition. Complimentary color combinations are used often, reds and greens, blues and dusty orange-browns, but even in those times the viewer is reminded of nature within those abstract forms.
Later works show a shift in style, from abstract to somewhat structured, but even then you can see Snow’s love for color and light shining through. The best example of this is “Ca’ d’Oro,” created in 1986/1987, which shows a vision of a building with classic architecture and gulls flying towards the viewer. But what seems at first to be white birds is actually not upon closer inspection, as the coral pinks that the artist seems to favor highlight the warm tones of the feathers while cool pastel blues and greens indicate the shadows.
The building behind them retains many of the same colors that exist in his earlier works, with golden browns, but each shape within the clover-shaped windows is indicated again by the mix of pastel green and coral pink. This connection between the background building and the birds is subtle, but pulls the piece together in a way that makes it feel complete. And no artwork of Snow’s would be complete without the deliberate placement of vivid color. In the case of “Ca’ d’Oro” it exists in a halo of crimson at the edge of the gulls’ wings, creating an emphasis on movement and memory of the moment.
By the 1990s and 2000s you can tell that experience has refined his work. Turning again to his love of the landscape, many of Snow’s pieces exist of rock faces and Utah landscapes. But in this time of his life he’s focused again on the play of light and shadow. Certainly, the same colors that he favors exist in each piece, corals and blues, Kelly greens. But his work begins to favor the use of almost glowing jewel-tones to emphasize the rich color of nature in rock faces and mountainous areas. And the blacks are no longer a thick swatch of midnight, but become almost multidimensional as one notices that they’re made up of a mix of pure color, blue, green and deep violet.
A many-times painted object, that of a cliff edge titled, “Corner of Cockscomb, Near Teasdale,” portrays this element, whether the ledge be bare or snow-covered. One such snowy view focuses on reflective lighting, red soaking through the snow like ink on cotton, and the snow itself almost foams in subtle waves upon the sea. But the orange-reds of the piece leave no doubt of where the image is taken from, near his home in Teasdale, Utah, as the surrounding rock face bleeds into the background in a wash of violet tones.
To summarize, V. Douglas Snow was a master. An artist, professor and renowned muralist. But no written word could ever fully describe the emotions evoked by seeing his paintings. His death is a loss to the art community, but his joy of life exists in the still moments shown in his work.
Celebrate his interpretive view of life and the Utah landscape through either Salt Lake Art Center or the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, both easily accessible by way of road or TRAX train. It’s free of admission at the SLAC on all days and the first Wednesday and third Saturday of every month through the UMFA (or $7.00 for adults, $5.00 for youth. Children and students with higher education ID such as a OneCard get in free).
For more details, visit http://www.slartcenter.org and http://umfa.utah.edu